I’ve always been something of a night owl. I have more energy and think more clearly in the evening than I do in the morning; as I’ve written before, getting out of bed is often the hardest part of my day. I enjoy reading before I go to sleep and I often do some pretty serious thinking then, too. These thoughts often lead to very late conversations -- with my sisters growing up, with my friends in college, and now with Dave. I have to try to have more self-control with him, though, because he is not quite the late-night person I am, poor guy.
All of this is to say that I’ve never had trouble with nighttime in the past. But one thing that my anxiety does when it’s acting up is flood me with dread as bedtime approaches. I still want to talk to Dave, and I still want to read all hours of the night, but it’s no longer simply because I enjoy doing those things. It’s because I’m afraid of where my brain will take me once the lights are out, the book (or the phone,** if I’m struggling from depression-induced attention deficit) is put down, and Dave is asleep next to me, when I’m alone. I’m afraid of the never-ending train of anxious thoughts and fears and sadness that will overwhelm me and keep me awake. I’m afraid of the added anxiety I will feel as it gets later and later, knowing that getting up in the morning is going to be that much harder. That it will be much more likely that I sleep in later than I want to, which will make me feel horrible about myself and perhaps spiral me down into depression again. It’s intense. I never used to understand insomnia, but now I get it.
Sometimes even sleep doesn’t bring relief from the anxiety. I’ve always been a vivid dreamer, but it just feels like a curse when your brain decides to process your anxiety that way. I once had a span of several days where I would keep dreaming that I was in high school and had an English project that wasn’t done when it was supposed to be, and I couldn’t finish it no matter how hard I tried. Stupid? Absolutely. But it was also miserable, and I dreaded falling asleep because I knew I was going to jump right back into it.
It’s been a lot better lately, thank goodness. One lasting effect, however, is that I now appreciate the fact that it’s light outside late into the evening much more than I used to. I used to enjoy it in the late fall when it got dark earlier and earlier. It felt so cozy. Now I feel the exact opposite; I crave the daylight (but not in the morning, because that would just make things way too easy).
I’m really hoping the nighttime anxiety doesn’t come back with a vengeance for a while. But if it does, I’ve decided I need to treat myself like I’m a baby that doesn’t sleep at night. I’ve heard that one of the hardest things about having sleepless baby is that after a while, you’re so used to the baby being awake all the time that you no longer have any hope that things will get better. The baby then picks up on this anxiety and expectation and, as a result, may be even more fussy than it would have been if you had had confidence that it would have a better night. I have to have hope that things will get better. And when things are better, I’ll take as much advantage of it as I can.
**Yes, I’m well aware that using electronics keeps your brain more awake. On bad nights, it’s a tradeoff between the anxiety of dealing with my anxious thoughts alone versus the anxiety of knowing that I’m probably keeping myself up even later by trying to keep them from coming.